Nobel Son (2008)
Nobel Son (2008)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: December 5th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Randall Miller Actors: Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku, Danny DeVito, Lindy Booth, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson

 


 

“N

obel Son” is not an easy film to foretell; with its constant genre-morphing subplots, psychotic characters, and unordered narrative, it will keep audiences guessing all the way through. This escape from convention is not always a good thing – the first half-hour of the film tries the patience with its disjointed and seemingly immaterial interactions, each one gumming up their relationships to other bizarre events. By the second act, pieces start to fall into place and realizations are hinted upon, but it doesn’t stop there. More twists, more complexities, and one too many unlikely coincidences will make viewers think twice before feeling satisfied by this suspenseful drama/black comedy/horror/mystery/thriller.

The opening scene consists of an alarmingly brutal thumb-severing bit of violence that perfectly paves the way for the unpredictable and mind-boggling adventure that follows. Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman, in a wonderfully despicable role, which he continually excels at) has just been announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for his stellar work in chemistry. He’s egotistical, eccentric, uncaring, and obnoxious, and has been handing out higher grades in exchange for sex with his young female students. Meanwhile, his son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) is struggling with his PhD thesis on cannibalism (his opening line of narration quotes Michel De Montaigne, a 16th century philosopher: “There is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead.”). He also struggles with an awkward romance with City Hall (Eliza Dushku), a morbid poet and artist with her own bountiful measures of oddness.

Eli’s wife Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) is a renowned forensic psychiatrist who is fancied by Max Mariner (Bill Pullman), a somewhat crafty detective. On the morning of the family’s trip to Sweden to attend the Nobel Prize party, Barkley is kidnapped and held for a $2 million ransom – the money awarded to Eli. From here, backstabbing, jealousy, lust, and greed collide in nonstop twists and turns, proving that, once again, nothing is what it seems.

Every character in “Nobel Son” is devious, shrewd, freakish, obsessive-compulsive, or morally flawed (most often all of those combined), making it difficult to side with any of the numerous antiheroes. The first plot surprise is unique and smart, but then the filmmakers (particularly writers Jody Savin and Randall Miller) try too hard, turning it into something unnecessarily convoluted. This is where the unanticipated – but not always welcome – genre confusion comes into play, at times heading down the path of a taut mystery/thriller or crime/drama, while always mixing in dark, subtle humor (and blatant grossness with poetry reading from “Death By Drain-O” or verses involving bathing in excrement), and eventually borrowing from films like “Seven,” “Body Heat,” “Wild Things,” and even “Mission: Impossible.”

“Nobel Son” is nonetheless a shock to the system. It’s an unconventional film that reminds audiences of the chaos seen in those rare movies that manage to breathe life into the most peculiar of characters and scenarios (especially when heists or crimes go terribly awry). It’s not perfect and its originality only comes from the amount of time that has passed since a movie like this was presented, but it’s definitely worth a try – if only for Rickman’s offbeat performance.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10